The Simpsons and Good Values

The Simpsons and Good Values

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As of 2003, The Simpsons is the longest running prime time animated series with fourteen seasons and counting. Not only does The Simpsons have almost fifteen million fans in America, but the show is watched by almost sixty million people across the globe. The show has created a billion dollar industry through sales of toys, books, clothing, and videos. Nielsen Media Research (NMR) has consistently rated every season of The Simpsons within the top thirty among prime time television programs of all genres. NMR also noted that males between the ages of 18-49 are the show's primary target audience. The New York Times millennium edition predicted that the show would still be highly rated in 2025. Although a large portion of the general public have been avid spectators, it has taken several years of programming for many political, religious, and academic authorities to approve or even take notice of the series. Today many of the powers that be believe that there is a moral and even religious lesson to be learned within each episode.
During the show's first year, in 1990, it was ridiculed and condemned all over the country. In April 1990, Bart Simpson T-shirts were banned in Cambridge Elementary School in Orange County, California. Two months later Mayor Sharpe James of Newark, New Jersey demanded that retail stores and street vendors stop selling these crude shirts. James was quoted by the Associate Press stating, "just at a time when [the nation's leaders] are trying to get our young people to develop their abilities to the fullest, we get a t-shirt with a popular cartoon character saying he is proud to be an underachiever" (James). JC-Penny department stores nationwide stopped selling the shirts. Leaders of the country began to join this bandwagon during a time where they considered the morality and values of Western Civilization were beginning to deteriorate because of violent video games and sinister rock music from groups such as Marilyn Manson. President George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara were disgusted by the series in 1992. Because of this original hatred by many of the rightwing officials and public voices many parents prohibited their children from watching as well as not taking an interest themselves.
The upheaval was also prominent in American churches. The minister of Willow Creek Community Church of Illinois created a sermon titled "What Jesus Would Say to Bart Simpson," expressing his distaste for the show.

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Through many of his own Baptist sermons, Dan Burnell aimed to steer children away from what he thought was an unholy message. For many church goers, the show was considered blasphemous and deemed no credible value.
As the years passed, many of the show's opponents eventually began to give the show a closer look. In turn, these popular icons and analysts started to praise and deem it some credibility. Barbara Bush realized that the show contains an ethical message for the viewers and sated that they "set and example for the rest of the country" (Bush). Todd Brewster of Life magazine stated in 1999 that, "The Simpsons verify our country's strength: If they can make it in today's America, who can't?" (Brewster). Popular cultural expert, Kurt Andersen, was quoted as stating that the show is "smarter, sharper, and more allusive than any other show on television" (Andersen). The series currently has notably high ratings in Britain and Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is an enthusiastic supporter. These praises gave the show more credibility and eventually it began to break more records and received even greater honors.
In response to its popularity, the show has been recognized and awarded for many achievements. As of 2003 the show has won 20 Emmys and the Peabody award for achievement in television. On its tenth anniversary, the entertainment industry acknowledged the show's brilliance with a star on Hollywood Boulevard. The Oxford English Dictionary has added one of Homer's famous expressions, "D'oh!" as an actual word. Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade has honored the show by including an oversized Bart balloon. The New York Times also mentioned, in their millennium edition, that Montgomery Burns is a better known illustration of capitalism than Ayn Rand. It is also interesting to note that in Roper Starch Worldwide survey, conducted in 1999, that around more Americans can recognize the Simpson family over Al Gore.
Religious praise by writers and academic scholars also arose during this time and many supporters revealed the show's positive message to many Christians. Professor, Gerry Bowler, of Canadian Nazarene College in Calgary states that "If this is a show where good usually triumphs, where the family virtues are always affirmed in the end, why are Christians put off by it?...if you're a mature Christian…you could watch it" (Bowler). William Romanowski, a professor at Calvin College said many episodes "leave God and religion open to multiple interpretations, perhaps so as not to potentially alienate audience members, but also as a reflection of American attitudes" (Romanowski). Bob von Sternberg provides evidence to Romanowski's statement when quoting the executive producer of the series, Mike Scully, who states that "[the writers] try to represent people's honest attitudes about religion" (Sternberg). David Dark, a writer for PRISM, a Christian magazine, claims that the show is "the most pro-family, God-preoccupied, home-based program on television. Statistically speaking, there is more prayer on The Simpsons than on any sitcom in broadcast history" (Dark). David Landry, scholar of Catholic college, University of St. Thomas, extends Dark's belief and stated in a newspaper article that "the most consistent and intelligent treatment of religion on TV is on The Simpsons" (Sternberg). A professor at the University of Virginia, Paul Cantor, provides a more down to Earth interpretation of the series in the journal of Political Theory and states the show "recognizes…the genuine role that religion plays in American life…it also suggests that one can go to church and not be either a religious fanatic or a saint" (Cantor). These profound views and praises have shed a new holy light on the show and sparked further investigation of the show's morality.
The year 2001 marks a milestone for The Simpsons and religion, when Mark I. Pinsky, a Jewish journalist, created his own rhetorical response to The Simpsons titled The Gospel According to The Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World's Most Animated Family. This book presents a series of facts, episode analyses, and interviews intended to interpret the relationship between faith and The Simpsons. Pinsky states in the Introduction that his intention of the book is to "create a common ground for [the evangelical and liberal Christian]…[through] analysis of material about God, faith, and religion…examining way in which Catholics, Jews, and Hindus are portrayed in The Simpsons (Pinsky 9). He begins by calling the city of Springfield a microcosm of American culture as a whole, because it involves characters that almost anyone can identify with. He provides strong arguments to prove that humor and religion, as a part of many American daily lives, are not mutually exclusive, but come together and should be embraced. In an interview with The Boston Globe, he states that "the chief undermining sin of American Protestants of the last century has been hypocrisy" (Paulson). He reveals that the character, Ned Flanders, is one exception of this insincerity and represents a pure evangelical Christian who struggles to keep his faith in God. He aims to delve deep into every facet of the show and create a bridge connecting the show and many religious values.
Pinsky also provides key insight into the minds of the creators in his book. He claims that the majority of the writers have either been skeptics or atheists, but several have called themselves Christians. When interviewing Christian writer, Steve Tompkins, it is revealed that no matter how ridiculous some of the rabid atheist would want to make some jokes or ideas, because each episode is a collaborative effort, the good always wins over bad in the end of every episode. The creators are well aware of the Hollywood Film Production Code (HFPC) of the 1930s demanded that filmmakers cease from ridiculing religion and stated that religious authorities should not be depicted in bad character or distaste. Pinsky says the writers can generally break the HFPC and get away with it because people take less offense to words spoken through animated character and the show's popularity gives them some leverage as to determining what they want to include, thus slipping through many controversial cracks. A large percentage of the writers were raised as Catholics and are often tempted to illustrate their distaste for this through dialogue. Upon noticing many of the Catholic jokes, The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights have disputed certain episodes and requested that Fox change certain lines for the reruns. The writers were initially furious when they found out that Fod had agreed, but in turn refrained from directly confronting Catholics in the episodes, and yet again, good winning over evil.
Pinsky's depiction of the show sparked a wave of newly found interest for many Church affiliates. His book was featured on the covers two Christian magazines in the same week. Interestingly enough, as he stated in his introduction about creating a common ground between the closed and opened minded Christians, one magazine was geared toward liberal Christians and the other for evangelical Christians. Skip Parvin, a pastor at the Tuscawilla United Methodist Church of Casselberry, Florida, states that after reading Pinsky's book he became a "confirmed Simpsons fan…and that the show is a foundational source for satirical commentary on the state of contemporary spiritual culture" (Parvin). There are still some skeptics in the Christian community, who stand closed minded toward the show and are firmly against it. Reverend Mike Tegtmeyer, a youth pastor, states that "it makes people look at faith in the wrong way…most parents don't let their kids watch The Simpsons and I would stand behind that" (Yonke). He is not alone in his stance against the series, but after Pinsky's extensive analysis, the number of Christians who stand beside Tegtmeyer are dwindling.
The year 2003 has already seen many affirmations of The Simpsons' religious and moral ties. On January 24, The Town Crier of upstate New York, titled an article ‘The Simpsons' are the Focus of Sunday School Course. This article highlights David Tang, a parishioner at Immanuel Baptist Church, for discussing how religion works through episodes of The Simpsons and sparks discussions among the church goers. Tang states that he was inspired by Pinsky's book and goes on to describe his similar views. A local newspaper of Naples, Florida titled Centerpiece: God and the Simpsons, is almost identical to the previous article, but comes from the opposite side of the east coast. This article highlights the First Presbyterian Church parish counselor, Louis Thompson, for leading a class that explores the issues and questions posed in Pinsky's book. Thompson states he was initially turned off by the series, but after reading this book he is now avidly learning from the television series along with the class. He does note, however, that some traditional Christian values are neglected, such as salvation through Jesus Christ, but reminds the worshipers that it is "just a show" (Grant). The third and most recent article was published in the United Kingdom on October 14, titled "In The Beginning Was The Word, And The Word Was DOH!" This article describes how Reverend George Cowie, of Holbrun West Church, has written four Simpson-related sermons that "will help close the gap with popular culture, and is open to anyone who wants to learn more about the Christian faith" (In The). These three religious figures, along with many others, have recognized the show's moral values, and use The Simpsons, a show that was once oppressed and looked down upon, to help teach the holy gospel and good values.

Works Cited
Andersen, Kurt. "Animated Nation." New Yorker. 16 June 1997: n/a.

Bowler, Gerry. "God and The Simpsons: The Religious Life of an Animated Sitcom." The Media and Family Values. Diss. Canadian Nazarene College, 1996. Calgary: Canada, 1996.

Brewster, Todd. "How TV Shaped America." Life. Apr. 1999: n/a.

Bush, Barbara. "And on the Seventh Day, Matt Created Bart." Loaded Magazine. August. 1996: n/a.

Cantor, Paul. "The Simpsons: Atomistic Politics and the Nuclear Family." Political Theory 27.6 (1999): n/a.

Dark, David. "The Steeple and the Gargoyle—Celebrating The Simpsons." PRISM. July-August 1997: n/a.

Grant, Jennifer. "Centerpiece: God and the Simpsons." Naples News. 5 July 2003: n/a.

James, Sharpe. Interview. n/a. Star Ledger. 20 June 1990: n/a.

Landry, David. Interview. "The Gospel According to Homer." by Bob von Sternberg. Twin Cities Star-Tribune. 30 May 1998: n/a.

Parvin, Skip. "The Gospel According to The Simpsons by Mark I. Pinsky." Rev. of The Gospel According to The Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World's Most Animated Family. by Mark I. Pinsky. n/a: n/a.

Paulson, Mitchelle. "With TV Religion, It's Bart Imitating Life." The Boston Globe. 9 Sept. 2001: n/a.

Pinsky, Mark I. The Gospel According to The Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World's Most Animated Family. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

Romanowski, William. "Pop Culture Wars: Religion and the Role of Entertainment in American Life." InterVarsity Press. Downers Grove: Ill, 1996.

Scully, Mike. Interview. "The Gospel According to Homer." by Bob von Sternberg. Star Tribune. 30 May 1998: n/a.

Yonke, David. "Faith in the mirror? Simpsons seen reflecting viewers' religion." Blade Religion Editor. n/a: n/a.

n/a. "In The Beginning Was The Word, and The Word Was D'oh!" The Daily Record. 14 Oct. 2003: n/a.
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